By Chris Azzopardi
Ten years without our favorite cupcake-wearing gonzo, Valerie Cherish, is 10 years too long. But the wait’s over. You were heard.
A decade after The Comeback —the hilariously cringe-y HBO trailblazer that lasted just one season in 2005, starring Lisa Kudrow as Val, a D-lister reaching for (everything underneath) the stars — was axed, it has returned to the network this week … with the Friends actress back as our beloved hot mess.
We chatted with Kudrow — who also has her fourth season on Showtime’s Web Therapy under her belt — about “superhuman” gays, her own comeback and the future of Romy & Michele.
Dallas Voice: Lisa, you don’t know how tempting it is to say “hello” three times to you right now. How often do people quote Valerie in your presence? And how often are they gay men? Lisa Kudrow: Frequently and frequently. You know who the next group is after gay men? College students.
Are you surprised by that? I was surprised … until I got used to it! But it’s fantastic. That’s really thrilling, and then it struck me: Well, of course! They grew up with Housewives of everywhere, and people humiliating themselves on reality TV. When The Comeback first came out, I think that gay men were the only ones who were like, “Yes. I understand. I get it. It’s great, and I understand.”
You know, those are the people I care about the most — the people who really loved the show. That was my only fear after it was all done. Doing it, writing it, shooting it, it was, “Yeah, this is right, this is right.” Then afterwards, “Uh oh, what if it’s not?”
When it comes to Valerie Cherish, what is it about her exactly that we gay men are so drawn to? I’ve been asking myself that too — not ’cause it’s a mystery, but I wonder why. I was watching Will & Grace once and there was this hilarious episode where Karen’s at a theater and she throws her flask and it hits someone in the head, and there’s this joke that gay men wouldn’t care because, “Eh, all in a day.” Getting, like, smacked with something is “all in a day.” So I wonder if that’s what it is — because Valerie gets, you know, humiliated, or humiliates herself, all the time. And it’s like, “Yeah, well, that’s the world.”
The other thing that I love about Valerie is, “All right, someone said something not nice, but you know what? Can’t use that. Got this other thing I gotta do.” She just ignores that that happened and keeps going.
That’s what it is too: She perseveres. Completely perseveres! You can agree with her goal or not, but she’s got it and nothing is getting in her way. There’s something admirable about that; there just is. Except, you know, she’s willing to put up with a lot.
When was it first apparent to you that gays were on board with The Comeback? Did you know instantly? Yeah, pretty much. [Co-creator] Michael Patrick King said, “You understand how this will go: First it’s gonna be the gays, then the women, then everyone else.”
RuPaul makes a cameo in the pilot episode. … I know. Oh my god — so good!
This means that Valerie could appear as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, right? You know, I’ve been asked to, but I don’t know how Valerie works on a talk show or as a judge. I don’t know. I’m thinking about it. I’m trying to figure out how it works. I don’t wanna say no!
And you obviously shouldn’t. All I’m saying is that I see many opportunities for you to say, “Note to self: I don’t need to see that!” [Laughs] But she could say all kinds of … I don’t know what we’re allowed to [say on Drag Race]. I mean, she’s indelicate and gets things wrong and, you know, I don’t know how offensive she’s gonna be.
Valerie is surrounded by gays, and so much of your career has been gay adjacent. You did Happy Endings. You turned Meryl Streep into a gay conversion therapist for Web Therapy. And then, of course, there’s The Comeback. Are you as immersed in the gay community as your career would lead us to believe? Yes and no. The people I work with are gay. I don’t know who I’m going to offend by leaving them out, but I need to say that I think gay men are superior beings in my mind. I do believe that.
I would love to hear why. It’s all so tricky. I studied biology and the brains are anatomically different. They just are. There’s a stronger connection with the corpus callosum [in gay men]. The two sides of the brain communicate better than a straight man’s, and I think that has to be really important. They’re not women — they’re still men — and women also have thicker corpus callosums, so I think it’s the combination of those qualities that makes them like a superhuman to me.
Even more apparent during this season of The Comeback is the inherent commentary on celebrity culture and age and gender discrimination. When it comes to ageism in the industry — the fact that there are so many talented older actresses not getting starring roles – what do you hope The Comeback accomplishes in spotlighting that issue? I don’t know what to say about that. It’s something that just is. I think it’s gonna be a much longer process. I’m really not a revolutionary-type personality, you know what I mean? I’m not the activist type, but mmm, my god. I’m really bad at this – communicating this stuff. But we still … we still … [Laughs] Women still have a different place in our society, and it’s changing slowly but it’s still real slow. Because we’re so interested in the male audience more than the female audience, the requirement for women in entertainment is that she turn men on. That really hasn’t changed much.
That’s particularly the focus of the third episode when — spoiler alert — you simulate oral sex on Seth Rogen. Right! And then you have the two [completely naked] girls standing there for an uncomfortably long time.
Did it feel uncomfortable for you on set? Well, the girls seemed OK. But, you know, [it’s] always just about making sure everyone’s being treated with respect, right?
Have you ever experienced the ageism that Val experiences in your own career? Roles you didn’t get because of your age? Not that I know of. I don’t know how to put it, but one of my biggest failings is that I accept things the way they are, and then I just try to adapt. I think it’s incredible people who say, “No, no. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.” It’s like, “Oh. Well, wow.”
Have you worked with someone like Valerie Cherish? Yes! These people exist. There were people who were like, “Oh, I think I know who this is,” and the answer is, “You don’t know who this is, because this isn’t one person.”
Did you have anyone in mind when you created the character? No, not one person, because it’s an amalgam of people — men and women.
What do you have in common with Val? Well, a lot. I think I do have a thing where, if something negative is happening and it’s not serving me, then I’m really not gonna let it in and address it because I gotta keep going. If something’s happening that’s negative, I try to think, “What’s OK about this?” so that I don’t get distracted by having to do something about that.
Which is exactly a Val characteristic. Right. And then it’s just exaggerated and heightened in her.
Could you ever imagine turning your own life into a reality show? No. The closest I came was doing an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?
Do you watch reality shows? Are you a fan at all? I do watch them. They’re so fascinating to me. I like Top Chef, Project Runway — still like that. I watch America’s Next Top Model. And then I watch the Housewives. I watch certain Housewives of places.
I am fascinated with the level of criticism young people can handle. I could not have handled it. I think I would’ve shriveled up in a ball, so on one level I really admire the Teflon part of them that’s able to say, “OK. Thank you. Good note.” I constantly try to work against that judgmental part of me, and it’s not [easy], especially when it’s the judgmental part that gives you your sense of humor.
And all this is research for The Comeback, of course. Well, yeah, I can’t really say that. It’s not research, but I am fascinated. I also do have this other theory that, thanks to those Housewives, we finally do have a point of reference for how women behave. We need to. It can’t just be reasonable, good behavior, because that’s how we depict the downtrodden so that no one thinks we’re sexist or racist, so you end up with all of these subgroups in our society that have to be dull. They’re not allowed to have any flaws, otherwise whoever wrote [that depiction] is accused of having bad feelings about them. To me, that’s when things are finally OK — when everyone’s allowed to have flaws depicted in entertainment.
In the spirit of the meta show a la The Comeback, if you could play a version of yourself playing Phoebe from Friends years later, what would that character be like? Well, I did play a version of myself playing Phoebe. Phoebe is a version of myself. Valerie’s a version. And Fiona Wallice (of Web Therapy) is a version. I have a feeling if Phoebe had to be revisited, she’d be closer to me.
Why do you say that? I don’t know about you, but I don’t wanna see a woman my age saying “floopy,” trying to be cute. No, uh-uh. It’s too Baby Jane.
Mira Sorvino recently brought up a sequel to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. What are your thoughts on one, and do you think it’ll happen at this point? I have no idea. Robin Schiff wrote and produced Romy and Michele, and we all did get together years ago with a great idea: Romy and Michele Get Married. And yeah, Disney wasn’t interested in it at the time. Now, I don’t know what it would be. My worry is, you know, wouldn’t it involve plastic surgery? [Laughs]
With a sequel like Romy and Michele Get Married, does that mean they end up being lesbian lovers because of the pact they made to marry each other in the original? No, they’re not, but that’s always the other meaning. Because that’s the relationship. That is the relationship. But I think by now it’d have to be Romy and Michele Get Divorced… Again.